Tamil Nadu is no stranger to accepting film personalities as political leaders. Former chief ministers C N Annadurai, M Karunanidhi, M G Ramachandran and J Jayalalitha have held fort from 1967 till 2016 with a minor interruption.
Following their footsteps are actor Kamal Haasan, heading the Makkal Neethi Maiam (MNM), and another actor and director Seeman leading the Naam Tamilar Katchi (NTK). The MNM has claimed to be a centrist party while the latter has adopted the Tamil nationalist card to seek votes.
The MNM has gained acceptance in the urban areas, while the NTK has managed to establish its roots in the rural parts. Both parties claim to be an alternative to the Dravidian parties, but their vote share in the 2019 general elections remained below 4%.
After a much hyped return of V K Sasikala, the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) is left stranded following her recent decision to withdraw from politics.
These parties could play spoilsport in a few constituencies, but a massive victory remains a distant dream for them given the formidable Dravidian fort.
MNM: REASONABLE DEBUT?
The MNM, founded in 2018 made its electoral debut in the 2019 general election. The party managed to secure 3.7% from the 36 constituencies it contested. The majority of the votes were concentrated more in the urban and semi-urban constituencies and the party fared poorly in the rural areas, both in general and assembly by-elections.
Kamal, a renowned actor, has his influence largely among the elite class, as reflected in the electoral début as well. The rural disconnect, along with the lack of experience in facing elections, could continue to be a setback for the party.
The party is aiming big for the assembly elections, announcing Kamal as the Chief Ministerial candidate, but the road ahead may not be as easy as the party thinks.
IDEOLOGICAL INCONSISTENCY, BETTER MANIFESTO
The policy document of the MNM says, 'it is neither right nor left'. The vague ideology and the lack of credible faces in the party, except a few are a disadvantage for the party.
The party is trying to project itself as a force similar to that of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), but has not been involved in large scale protests or movements against issues stressing the people.
The party wanted to fight elections alone, but kept the doors open for other parties who would accept its leadership. Two parties, Samathuva Makkal Katchi led by another actor Sarath Kumar, who represented the DMK in the Rajya Sabha and later the AIADMK in the assembly and Indhiya Jananayaga Katchi, led by Pari Vendhar, an MP elected as DMK representative have joined the alliance.
MNM’s manifesto has incorporated several measures including that of 50% reservation for women, universal distribution of feminine products and monetising household works.
NTK: EVOKING TAMIL SENTIMENTS
The NTK first came into existence in 1958, founded by S P Adithanar, the former speaker of Tamil Nadu Assembly and founder of the Daily Thanthi newspaper, with the demands a sovereign Tamil state including Tamil speaking regions in Sri Lanka. The party later merged with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in 1967.
The director turned politician, Seeman revived the NTK in 2009 and the organisation became a political party in 2010, on the first anniversary of the war in Srilanka. The party has remained controversial, demanding the ‘rule of Tamils’ in the state.
Whoever speaks Tamil, irrespective of their religious beliefs, are ‘pure tamils’, as per the party’s ideology. The party does not want any other individuals, apart from ‘pure Tamils’ to rule the state.
The party has been calling up for ‘Tamil Unity’, without challenging the caste system, which is highly impossible given the atrocities against the dalits. Many important spokespersons have left the party in recent times, shifting allegiance to the DMK and AIADMK. Those who left the party alleged the NTK of being dominated by the Nadar caste.
ELECTION CAMPAIGN FOR AIADMK
The party contested the 2016 assembly election and 2019 general elections on its own, but campaigned extensively for the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in 2011 and 2014 elections.
NTK then called for the defeat of the national parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress, along with the DMK for their silence and alleged roles during the final war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Now, the NTK projects itself as an alternative to all the existing parties, claiming to be the true representatives of the tamils. The support base of the party has seen a consistent growth in spite of the obscene language used by Seeman and other leaders of the party.
It had managed to increase its vote share, from 1.06% in 2016 assembly elections to 3.93% in 2019 general election. The party performed well in the rural constituencies in the by-elections held together, but could not win any seats.
The NTK, however, has been allocating 50% seats to women in the elections it has contested, a new benchmark no other political party in the state can claim. The policies of the party are high on aspirations, but remain predominantly in paper. The radical approach of the party and derogatory language used against even party members who question the leadership could continue to hamper its prospects.
AMMK: LOSING PROMINENCE?
The AMMK founded by TTV Dhinakaran in 2018 after breaking away from the AIADMK is on a deteriorating path. After the dramatic return of V K Sasikala, the party was expected to make an impact in the elections.
But the unexpected decision of Sasikala to withdraw temporarily from active politics is a huge setback for the party.
The party garnered 5.32% votes in the 2019 general elections much higher than the MNM and NTK. But the party returned empty handed both in the general elections and the by elections for 22 seats.
The AMMK was expected to win at least a couple of assembly segments, since Dhinakaran won as an independent candidate from R K Nagar constituency, which fell vacant after the demise of J Jayalalitha.
The future of the party now remains bleak, given the prevailing atmosphere in the state, with the AIADMK and the BJP fighting together. The party is literally sidelined by the AIADMK camp, with Dhinakaran left with little options but to fight alone.